MV ‘Kota Ratna’ – passenger no. 1 (reaching Palau)

Day 3,025 since October 10th 2013: 195 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

Back to the Pacific

pano

We would be going nowhere without the kindness, the dedication, the labour, the ingenuity, the interest, the acceptance and the willingness of strangers all around the world. This is not one man’s accomplishment; this is a collaborative effort.

Last week’s entry: Once Upon A Sister; From the Pacific to the Polar Night (guest blog by my sister)

Friends, fans, followers and family: we have successfully reached Palau making it 195 countries in an unbroken journey completely without flying! We are now eight countries from the goal. And I am looking forward to telling you about Palau. However, this entry will be about the voyage from Hong Kong to Palau onboard the good ship ‘Kota Ratna’ together with her brave crew. A journey of approximately 2,857 nautical miles which is about 5,291km (3,282mi). Now keep in mind that Palau was the closest country to Hong Kong of our remaining ones!! It is a heck of a thing we sat out to do with the Saga back in 2013.

1

First things first. At sea ‘left’ is known as ‘port’ and ‘right’ is called ‘starboard’. If the waves, the swell or the wind has the ship rocking in a motion from port to starboard then it is called ‘rolling’. If the ship is “rolling” from bow (front) to stern (back) then it is known as ‘pitching’. I generally do not suffer from motion sickness onboard these large vessels and the weather is furthermore usually calm. However, if the ship is both rolling and pitching at the same time then I may become slightly uncomfortable and go to bed. And such it was the first few days until we reached Kaohsiung in Taiwan. But first I had to leave Hong Kong so let’s dial it back a bit to January 5th. I had been in touch with Mr. Keith Leung who’s the boarding officer for Pacific International Lines (PIL) in Hong Kong. It made me happy to hear from him because believe it or not Mr. Keith Leung was the very same man who received me from PIL’s good ship ‘Kota Hening’, when I disembarked in Hong Kong on January 28th 2020. Mr. Keith is arguably the very first Hongkonger I met, of the many which were yet to come. Arrangements were made for a driver to collect me at Mariners Club where I had been living. The driver arrived, disinfected the soles of my shoes and both my hands, and away we went – all the way to the other side of the road where the port was. Yes – it was a rather short drive and soon I stood next to the good ship ‘Kota Ratna’.

2

Hong Kong.

‘Ratna’ is Sanskrit for ‘jewel’ and all of PIL’s vessels are called ‘Kota’. ‘Kota’ can mean a few different things depending on where you are from. In Malay ‘Kota’ means city. In Japan the meaning of ‘Kota’ is ‘happiness’. But according to an article commemorating PIL’s 55-years anniversary, the meaning of ‘Kota’ is derived from the Dravidian language family found in India, and it means ‘mountain’ or ‘hill’. As such I joined the good ship “Mountain Jewel” and its brave crew of twenty-three. The day before joining the good ship I tested negative for COVID-19. I have been tested many times since the pandemic broke out and I have only ever tested negative. Hong Kong has been good like that and has managed the pandemic well. It is a requirement to test negative prior to joining PIL’s ships and today you must also be vaccinated. I came onboard with proof of my three jabs including the most recent booster of November 11th 2021. It was a warm welcoming as the two deck cadets had created a welcome banner and received me at the gangway along with the 2nd officer :)

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It doesn't get better than this! :)

My temperature was taken and I was quickly shown to my cabin on D-deck just below the bridge. The good ship measures 144m (472ft) and is 22.6m (74ft) wide which, believe it or not, makes her a small container vessel. She can carry 777 TEU (twenty-foot containers) and can carry 13,504 ton – which is as much as 2,250 African elephants. Her keel was laid in Japan back in 1997 and she was delivered the following year, which means she has kept seafarers safe for twenty-five-years. ‘Kota Ratna’ is what’s known as a feeder vessel. The large ships will e.g. carry containers from Europe to Hong Kong and then the smaller feeder vessels will “feed” the containers to smaller ports. The service ‘Kota Ratna’ covers, calls six ports: Hong Kong, Kaohsiung (Taiwan), Guam (USA), Saipan (USA), Yap (FSM), and Koror (Palau), before returning to Hong Kong. It takes about fifteen days from Hong Kong to Koror and then another six days to return, so a roundtrip consists of about three weeks. My cabin was relatively spacious and had more than I needed: shower, toilet, chair, sofa-bench, desk, bed, phone, clock, closet and a window. It was also fitted with an immersion suit and a lifejacket in case of emergency. And there was a hand sanitizer dispenser on my desk since these are pandemical times.

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My cabin on D deck.

Ten minutes after I was shown to my cabin, I found myself on the bridge making a video together with Captain S. M. Abbas Zaidi, where we announced the good news so I could post it everywhere and share that we would finally be on our way to Palau! When Mr. Keith received me from ‘Kota Hening’ back in January 2020 I was scheduled to join PIL’s good ship ‘Kota Hidayah’ only four days later. Instead, we waited nearly two years. If that is not great persistence and dedication then I don’t know what?! Captain Zaidi’s lovely wife had actually reached out to me on Instagram four days before I joined ‘Kota Ratna’. Word travels fast? And the video Capt. Zaidi and I made was shared several times and ended up being seen by many. We were definitely off to a good start. Hong Kong Immigration did not board the ship as they normally would. Instead, immigration came along side in a small boat and our passports were lowered down to them in a bag via a rope. The pandemic is very much still alive and the shipping industry has had to find a way to cope with it just like everyone else. Once cleared by immigration the pilot came onboard and we left Hong Kong after nightfall. Temperatures were taken of all onboard twice a day as an extra precaution. And for the first three days while onboard I was instructed to wear a mask when not inside my cabin. I was the first to join the ship in twenty-eight days. COVID-19 safe ship!

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Hong Kong Immigration receiving the passports for the final formalities.

Apparently, I had lost my sea legs during the nearly two years in Hong Kong. The pitching and rolling between Hong Kong and Taiwan had me feeling somewhat average and I spent most of my time in bed. I did however join the mandatory familiarization of the ship, where newly joined crew/passengers are taken around the superstructure/accommodation of the ship and notified on the various safety features such as lifeboats and assembly stations whereabouts. As passenger I was listed as ‘supernumerary’ and in case of emergency I was to report to the bridge and stand by. In such an event, if the alarm sounded, I would speedily make my way to the bridge carrying my immersion suit and life jacket. Apart from the safety element the familiarization also covered where the gym was, where meals were served, the smoking room, laundry room, engine room and the assortment of waste (metals, plastics, food waste etc). What can I say; it was a real pleasure to be back onboard a great ship returning into the North Pacific Ocean! And my seasickness was gone by the time we reached Taiwan.

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It doesn't look to bad and it wasn't. But swell and wind combined can move even a large ship.

I really like seafarers and find them to be pure of heart. The life of a seafarer has changed massively over the years and will continue to do so. However, some things remain the same. Once you are at sea, you are no longer with your family. Contracts typically span from three to ten months depending on rank, and during the pandemic, joining or departing a ship has at time been nightmarish! While we were at sea Hong Kong it was announced that Hong Kong, which is a main hub for crew change, banned several flights during a recent response in the fight against COVID-19. So how will these seafarers now be able to return home after their contracts run out? You will also not be able to leave the ship if your replacement cannot make it to the ship. The uncertainty is a highly stressful factor for many and the future has for years been volatile. In this, seafarers and I relate to each other. They often do not know when they can return home and neither do I. For nearly two years while in Hong Kong my mental state was under severe pressure as we went from days, to weeks, to months to years! Where we differ is of course that I could probably have returned home “simply” by quitting, whereas a seafarer must stay onboard until someone finds a solution. Yet, few seafarers have been stuck for years. Life onboard for the seafarers is mostly work, work, work and routine. But every so often there is time for a BBQ/party. Once a month if time and weather permits. As such we had a party while at sea between Taiwan and Guam. We were hoping for dry weather but we had some rain. We expected the wind to blow about 12 knots but it hit us with 25 knots! Yet: what a party!! :)

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Party time on 'Kota Ratna'

7b

You may be familiar with the 'egg-and-spoon race'. How about a: 'lemon-and-spoon race on one leg with the spoon in your mouth' in rain and wind while the ship rolls! :)

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You may be familiar with the 'musical chairs' game in which there is 1 more contender than chairs and you need to sit when the music stops? How about at sea with grown-ups! :)

We were out there barbecuing shrimp and meat. The music was playing and the steward, who recently advanced to 2nd Cook, was dancing with a huge smile on his face in front of all the food and snacks he and the Chief Cook had prepared! I’ve experienced parties at sea before but I do not remember dancing? And the dancing was plentiful!! We even had a dance competition which was nothing less than brilliant!! I have included a one-minute MUST WATCH video for you to get a sense of the atmosphere. I wish I could dance like that! But leave that to the Indians and the Indonesians. Modern Vikings are not known for their dance moves ;)

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This video makes me happy EVERYTIME!! :)

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Great crew on 'Kota Ratna'! :)

We were four nationalities onboard including my own. The majority (14) from India, 7 from Indonesia and 2 Chinese (Chief Engineer and 2nd Engineer). Together they accounted for twenty-three amazing people and during the party it was hard to tell that most of these seafarers had never met before and were not life long friends. Since December I have been forty-three years of age which made me the 4th oldest person onboard ‘Kota Ratna’. And only two days younger than one of the seamen. Many things play into what makes a ship good: the ships design, the food onboard, the air-conditioning, the crewmembers, management, and social engagement just to mention some. I have been on ships where nobody seemed to speak to each other and all the cabin doors were always closed. And I have been on ships teeming with life with most cabin doors open and music and laughter sounding across the decks. You can never be sure if you’ll be joining a ship which sits stable in the ocean or one which moves and rolls easily. You never quite know if the food will be to your tasting or not? I was really lucky as the kitchen was just restoked in Hong Kong so nothing was amiss.

9

Chief Officer Biswas teaching Deck Cadet Singh. There were three cadets onboard: Deck Cadet Singh, Deck Cadet Bajpai and Electrical Engineer Cadet Kamal. The future generation of PIL's fleet in training.

We reached Guam which looked like a really interesting place worth a visit. Some 160,000 beating hearts have their daily life on Guam which is a lot for a small Pacific Island. I was fortunate to meet PIL’s agent (at a safe distance) in the ships office and he was a really nice guy. While along side we would all wear masks until back at sea. The agent had spent quite some time dealing with immigration on my behalf. The CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) had found it suspicious that I was traveling onboard a containership and there was internal division amongst immigration regarding letting me onboard ‘Kota Ratna’ within Guam’s territorial waters (even as I held a U.S. B1-B2 visa). The kind agent could tell me that the final decision was actually made in Washington (!) and I’m glad they made the right one. I wonder how thick my file might now be within the NSA, the FBI or the CIA’s archives? ;) The agent expressed what a shame it was with the pandemic as he would happily have brought me to the other side of the island and shown me some of the sights, which included waterfalls and bomb craters which have since WWII become ocean water pools near the seaside. Great stuff! Adventures for another time. I had to make do with a local sim card and gained access to the internet for a while. In Taiwan I also had a sim card and the one from Guam also worked at our next port call which was Saipan. At sea we were offline.

10

The engine room. I know next to nothing about engines. But this one has six cylinders and can technically push 'Kota Ratna' to a max speed of 18 knots at 136 rpm. But we were mostly moving forward at an economical speed of about 11-12 knots which is also better for the environment.

10b

While I don't know much about engines I do know something about people. And the guys in the engine room were simply outstanding! :)

Saipan was a short voyage from Guam and we arrived the next day. Before reaching each port, a pilot would come onboard to help guide ‘Kota Ratna’ safely alongside. The entry to Saipan was particularly exotic with a smallish island across from the port with white sand and turquoise water around it. We even saw a whale at a distance which is quite rare for most voyages. I have been fortunate to see my share of whales, but from very few of the twenty-six containerships I have been lucky to take passage onboard. In my experience, when at sea, you see nothing but water and sky. No fish, no whales, no dolphins, no ships, no garbage, no mermaids, no aliens, no nothing. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it doesn’t. Occasionally you might see a few birds. But usually there’s a lot of emptiness out there. And that within itself can be more than enough. The open vastness of the ocean is a reminder to how small we all are, and to how large the world in fact is. We heard news of the volcanic eruption in Tonga and the tsunami which followed. Many have since contacted me to ask if we felt anything? The reality was that we were 1/8th of our planets circumference away from Tonga and did not feel a thing. That is far more than the width of USA from coast to coast. But what an immense show of power that was from Mother Earth!? I feel for those who have been harmed by this disaster and I feel positively encouraged by all the help which is already being directed to Tonga, often in collaboration with the Red Cross.

11

Safety is a huge part of life at sea. Safety drills are therefore regularly held and in this photo you see a demonstration on how to put the immersion suit on. After a completed fire drill, an abandon ship drill and an oil pollution drill.

Ah yes, an entry from a fifteen-day voyage could go on forever and I could easily type up fifteen pages for you. However, I’ll do my best to wrap it up now. I have had many interesting conversations while onboard the good ship and I felt truly welcome during the entire voyage. I was free to walk about on ‘Kota Ratna’ and all I had to do before heading outside was report it to the bridge. As such I decided to get some distance into my legs after the first week and worked out that thirty rounds of the good ship would amount to 10km (6.2mi). There was even a 300m (984ft) elevation gain (and loss as well) in the staircases at the bow and stern along with the overall angle of the ship from bow to stern. I did it four times while onboard, each time listening to podcasts and observing the sea. My days also went by with reading and watching movies. I slept much more than normal and I generally sleep really well onboard these ships. There is a constant vibration throughout the ship from the massive engine, which drives the propeller. Even when the engine is off there’s a weaker vibration from the generator. ‘Kota Ratna’ would roll more and more as we unloaded full containers, loaded more and more empties, and became lighter. The rolling just becomes a part of life and you quickly forget about both the vibrations and any light rolling. When a ship begins to roll more than 15 degrees, stuff might fall off the table. We had a few 25-degree rolls and during one night I had to get up and secure all which had landed on the floor. It becomes challenging to do simple stuff like putting on trousers or shoes. But as mentioned, you quickly adjust and it becomes a part of life. The hallways of the various decks, deck A, B, C and D, would sometimes smell of sweat or soap depending on who walked by. The temperatures kept crawling up from Hong Kong all the way down to Palau where it was warm and humid. Around 30 degrees Celsius (86F) and a relative humidity of 89%.

12

The view from the bridge on a clear day with near mirrorlike conditions.

12b

May I present to you: the brave seafarers of 'Kota Ratna'.

For me a good ship needs to have a good Captain. You cannot place it all on the Captain, but a good Captain takes good care of the ship and the crew. And ‘Kota Ratna’ certainly had a good Captain along with good officers, engineers and seafarers. I had many good conversations with Captain Zaidi, who is fond of moon risings. Initially I thought to myself that I of course had seen a moon rising. But eventually it dawned on me that I might never have? I have seen the moon hanging low over the horizon on a number of occasions. I may never have seen the moon rise up from the horizon? Some seafarers are at sea because there was no other choice. Others are at sea for the passion within the life. Captain Zaidi is certainly competent, knowledgeable, attentive and kind. And he seemed to be well-liked onboard. Personally, I never had to ask for anything twice and I rarely had to ask for anything to begin with. I got the royal treatment onboard. The food was good, I dined in the Chief Officers seat next between the Captain and Chief Officer, all my meals were served for me, and I had a good time with the crew. After reaching Yap we were on our way to Palau. We followed the schedule as clockwork and even arrived early, although couldn’t come along side until January 19th as originally scheduled. There was only one shipping company which could have brought the Saga to Palau. And they managed to do it in the midst of a pandemic! I am grateful to Pacific International Lines, the employees in Singapore, the agents at the ports and all involved. Too the brave crew on the good ship ‘Kota Ratna’ there is only one thing to say: Fair Winds and Following Seas!

final

Nearing Palau beside Captain Zaidi. Thank you!

 

 

I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

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If you enjoyed this blog or think I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga still needs funding. Thank you :)

 

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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - eight countries from home

"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

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Farewell to Hong Kong

Day 3,011 since October 10th 2013: 194 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

I still cannot believe it

panoAfter 708 days of being pandemically stuck in Hong Kong we are now at sea! That is a very long time to wait for a solution to come into fruition.

Last week’s entry: Please, give me a break

With 708 days in Hong Kong, I have had 708 days to give up. The first five months were spent living with the wonderful Savagar family, who initially expected to host me for four days in their guestroom. I remember reaching Hong Kong on Pacific International Lines (PIL) good ship Kota Hening back on January 27th 2020. The news had begun to report on a virus outbreak in a Chinese city called Wuhan which I had never heard about before. The captain provided me with a mask and told me that I’d better wear it. The following day I disembarked the good ship and met PIL’s agent Mr Keith Leung, headed to immigration and then Mr Keith drove me all the way out to Sai Kung where the Savagars live. You all know what followed…hoarding of toilet paper, lockdown in Italy, mass graves in New York, lockdowns, travel bans, handwashing songs, the first vaccines, uneven distribution, political polarization, anti-vaxxers, new variants, and I guess that more or less brings us up to speed. My goodness we have looked at many options for leaving Hong Kong and making our way to a new country! This is the very first plan which bears fruit. We have been able to leave HK thanks to efforts by Roel (our Dutch friend in Palau), Pacific International Lines in Singapore, my friend Bjarke in Singapore did his part, Frank at MTL in HK helped out, Vikas at Anglo Eastern in HK helped, we’ve had support in Palau from Anguar State all the way to the heights of Parliament in Koror. And the first step on this particular road was taken back in June 2021. What an achievement of collaboration. So many to thank for so much. Let’s take a look at how my last days in HK were spent.

1

Kenneth and Rose, New Years Eve :)

New Years Eve was spent at Kenneth and Rose’s home together with their two children Sofie and Anton. And once again much of the Danish Mafia in HK was present: Thomas of the Andersen Clan, Anita, Christian and little Victor. Poul and Amy along with Poul and Amie! And we were even joined by Reverend Rebecca Holm. Kenneth is a master chef and along with an entre by Anita’s hand the New Years Eve meal was spectacular!

2

It has been a pleasure serving seafarers and Danes alike through my job hat the Danish Seamen's Church in Hong Kong. Everyone can look forward to meeting Reverend Rebecca Holm :)

I have been saying farewell to Hong Kong lately. I don’t know if I will be returning although I think it is currently the best plan. Because from Hong Kong I could probably board a vessel to Australia or New Zealand where I can get a new passport. I’m only left with nine pages and just as many countries. New Zealand doesn’t even have a Danish Embassy. It is run from Australia. But New Zealand has a very kind Honarary Consul. Palau, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Samoa and Tonga certainly do not have Danish representation. Sri Lanka might but that’s far away and The Maldives definitely doesn’t. I would run out of pages in no time. So that's a bit about that. This week I was fortunate to get invited back onboard the “Wine Knot?” which is a sailboat my friend Henrik has access to. We headed out to sea along with a bunch of friends and had a nice dinner at a floating restaurant. Over the years I have come to learn something about myself: I have a tendency to get seasick if I am exhausted, sleepy and dehydrated. I was two out of the three and felt rather queasy heading out and returning. I avoided throwing up and instead had a good afternoon nap on the way back. But still, it was a nice way to say farewell to Hong Kong’s shoreline. Hong Kong has a staggering 1,189km (739mi) of coastline and more than 250 islands. There are around 100 beaches and the territorial waters are 1,651km2. I may have been queasy but I got to say farewell.

3

Henrik reading the sail and perfecting the trim onboard the Wine Knot?

The next day I said farewell to the mountains. My goodness I have spent a lot of time in the mountains. I once sat out to reach the twenty highest peaks. I have hiked and trail runed across the many of Hong Kong’s hundreds of trails and all four ultra-distance footpaths. On April 11th 2020 I did my very first ultra-distance. It was the Hong Kong Trail which measures 47.5km +/-1km (29-30mi) from Victoria Peak to Big Wave Bay on Hong Kong Island. The Trail has an elevation of 1/8 of Everest. I did it together with three friends: Dehua, Leon and Brett from ‘The Running Klub’. Brett has since coached me a bit. Back in April 2020 we did it in 12:06:00 and my body was destroyed afterwards. But the day after the boat trip I aimed for a sub six-hour time and clocked it in: 05:59:28!! Trail running and hiking has been a big part of my life while in Hong Kong. And I’m a big believer in that we must aim to be better tomorrow than what we were yesterday. Cramps began to set in after five hours. It was a mind over body thing and it left me severely exhausted. But I reached my goal! Hong Kong has some breathtaking nature and I will miss Hong Kong.

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I took this photo halfway when I was confident. I lost confidence after 5hrs and was convinced I would't make it under six hours. It was only during the last 20 minutes I saw I still hada chance. And I was in doubt until the very last minute!! Close cut!! My average puls across the six hours was at 150 beats per minute!

The very next day I said farewell to the city which Hong Kong is most famous for. In reality 75% of Hong Kong is nature and only 25% is urban setting. But perception is reality. I met with my friend Kenneth for lunch and afterwards I met up with my good friend Anita for 90-minutes of foot massage followed by dinner. Hong Kong has an amazing city where just about anything can be found. The following day I had lunch with Thomas of the Andersen Clan. After my five months living with the Savagars, I lived for a month in Wong Chuk Yeung near the Andersen Clan.

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White wine and foot massage with Anita. Afterwards we had dinner with her husband Christian and their son Victor.

I thought that I would be ecstatic over the news that I am leaving Hong Kong. Or at least happy? But in reality, I am not feeling much emotion at all. Perhaps it needs more time to sink in? Before arriving to Hong Kong, we were reaching a new country every 12.37 days on average. My time in Hong Kong has by no means been wasted. I summed up some of the highlights and shared it across social media. It went something like this:

Saying farewell to Hong Kong is HARD - but in a good way…so many memories. Good and bad. Ultra-Wifey has been out to visit twice.

I have some amazing friends in HK.

I’ve had an amazing collaboration with Discover Hong Kong.

I’ve reached all sorts of crazy side goals:

  • Hiked the 100k (62mi) MacLehose Trail several times and clocked it under 20hrs once.
  • The 78k (48mi) Wilson Trail once.
  • The 70k (44mi) Lantau Trail twice.
  • Covered the 47.5k (29mi) HK Trail many, many times, and recently in sub 6hrs (still sore).
  • Managed 500,000+ steps in a week raising money for the Red Cross.
  • Virtually covered the distance from Sydney to Melbourne in a month.
  • Been on HK’s 20 highest peaks.
  • Completed the Goggins 4x4x48 challenge.
  • Done 13 speaking engagements.
  • Seen the city in a multitude of ways: museums, restaurants, café’s, clubs, temples, streets, markets, sports grounds, districts, shops, malls, massage parlors, cinemas, theaters, schools, universities, offices, factories, warehouses, elevators, escalators, stairs, rooftops, basements, street art, beach cleanups, and the list goes on…
  • I’ve seen the port, the airport (Ultra-Wifey), marinas, villages, waterfalls, caves, beaches, wildlife, islands, amusement parks, and dormant volcanoes.
  • I’ve done countless interviews.
  • I’ve worked at the Danish Seamen’s Church with wonderful people and serviced hundreds of seafarers by boarding nearly 50 ships.

I’ve never throughout my life been anywhere for as long as this in any one place without crossing a border! My mother is from Finland and my father from Denmark. So even as an infant we would travel to see family.

This is not goodbye - this is farewell. Hong Kong, like any other place, is constantly changing and I WILL BE BACK to see what the future has in store.

We have now returned to the Pacific Ocean on our way to Palau which I’m sure is an amazing country (and we may return to HK in Feb).

If you’ve ever been to Hong Kong then you know what I’m on about. If you’ve lived in HK then you were very lucky.

 

Last Wednesday we boarded the good ship ‘Kota Ratna’ which will pass by Taiwan, Guam, Saipan, and Yap before finally reaching our first new country in two years: Palau here we come! I have been received well onboard by the kind Captain S. M. Abbas Zaidi and his brave crew. They have been bending over backwards making my stay as comfortable as possible. The food is good and everyone has been really sweet. Unfortunately, I fell seasick almost immediately and have spent much of my time lying down. I guess I will need to earn those sea-legs back again. But other than that, I have been sleeping like a baby! We have reached Kaohsiung in Taiwan which is why I once again have internet. I expect to be offline from now on until we reach Koror in Palau around January 19th. By then I’ll share my stories from onboard the good ship Kota Ratna! Some really good news is that the ENTIRE crew is vaccinated!!! So I might not need to quarantine in Palau at all.

Thank you all. You’ve helped make Hong Kong truly special to me. Stay safe and sane wherever you are.

final

Onboard the good ship Kota Ratna.

 

 

 

I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

Hi Res with Geoop

 

If you enjoyed this blog or think I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga still needs funding. Thank you :)

 

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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - your humble host of Once Upon A Saga.

"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

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Please, give me a break (from Hong Kong)

Day 3,004 since October 10th 2013: 194 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

BureauCRAZY prevails

pano

A few weeks ago, while waiting for a train, I was wondering if I have invented a few words? I’ve been writing ‘bureaucrazy’ instead of bureaucracy for years. And at some point, I began writing ‘pandemically stuck’. But ‘pandemically’ isn’t new.

Last week’s entry: Another Christmas in Hong Kong

Hong Kong, day 703: I was once sent away from an Embassy in Congo, where I was applying for a visa. The reason was that in my passport photo I was wearing a t-shirt style collar and not a shirt style collar. So, I had to put on a polo-shirt, get a few new passport photos done, and return back to the embassy. I halfway expect that kind of nonsense from some countries. I also once entered an embassy and greeted the lady at the reception with a friendly: “Bonjour - ça va” only seconds later to hear the lady say (in French): “Come back when you know how to speak French or bring someone who does”. I turned around on my heal, smiled and said: “merci”. It’s a different matter when the behavior of the United States of America is puzzling. A global beacon of freedom and justice. An ally of my home nation Denmark and arguably the worlds only real superpower. You would suspect such a country and its government offices to make sense. Unfortunately, the very thing which is currently holding the Saga back from reaching Palau as our next country is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). I’ve been informed that they are internally debating whether they should allow me to pass through Guam’s territorial waters onboard Pacific International Lines (PIL) vessel on our way to Palau. They are aware that I hold a valid U.S. B-1/B-2 visa and that I will not disembark the vessel in Guam. Apparently, their main concern is my chosen form of travel. I would like to say that this makes perfect sense to me. But my goodness…when does the madness end?

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Last week we were told we could not reenter Hong Kong from a commercial vessel. We got some help from our friends at Anglo Eastern and Modern Terminals Limited and solved the misunderstanding.

At this point we have achieved Government approval from the highest place of Palau. We have ticked all the boxes and received full support from PIL, a world leading shipping company, to board their vessel. And we covered more than 307,000km (190,000mi) in an unbroken journey across 194 countries completely without flying! We are closer than ever before (since the pandemic broke out) to reaching Palau and bringing me one country closer to home. A plan which my friend Roel and I began working on more than six months ago. A plan which has received wide support within a positive and popular global project backed by the Danish Red Cross. The ship leaves from Hong Kong on January 5th 2022. Can you imagine how I feel? (read to end and you’ll find a surprise).

2

Reverend Rebecca delivering the Christmas church service. The first at the Danish Seamen's Church in two years.

Let’s lighten the mood: CHRISTMAS!! Ah, yes. That crazy celebration which means a lot to the western world and less to the rest. What is it again? Santa Clauses birthday? Can’t remember. But it must have something to do with Coca Cola! Well, nonsense aside I still work at the Danish Seamen’s Church here in Hong Kong and our Reverend Rebecca Holm, who has been at work for less than a month, delivered a world class Christmas service for the Danes in Hong Kong and friends alike. Afterwards we enjoyed some sweets and Danish “hygge” within Danish Room above the chapel. What a nice way to start Christmas. In Denmark we celebrate Christmas on December 24th with friends, food and presents. We bring a tree into our home, we decorate it and dance around it! Yes – the evolution of mankind is going great. Within the U.K. they do the same stuff one day later on December 25th. And with the global influence of the British Empire that idea has spread wide and far in this world. In Hong Kong Christmas isn’t a big deal for most people in the way the westerns world knows it. But it’s still celebrated in shops and decorations go up here and there. In this part of the world Chinese New Year is the big celebration and it isn’t much different from Christmas in the sense that families get together around some good food and have a good time.

3

Kenneth sure knows how to cook!! Good food is a huge part of a good Christmas! ;)

I was once again invited to spend Christmas up in the mountains at the High Court of the Andersen Clan. Thomas and his son Luis were there but this year Thomas’ daughter Natali spent her Christmas in Norway. We were joined by a lot of the Danish mafia: Anita, Christian and little Victor. Kenneth, Rose and their children Sofie and Anton – and their grandmother, I think. Poul and Amy were there too. A great collection of friends from HK. Kenneth did the cooking so there were no complaints. Santa showed up at one point and we had a good time playing games and hanging out.

4b

You know it's bad when you're riveling Mumbai!! Mumbai is great!! The air quality less so.

4c

The air quality in HK has been strange lately. Sometimes it has been really good (as it normally is) in its low 20ties on the Air Quality Index (AQI). But then the following day it suddenly skyrockets to ‘unhealthy’ in its 150ties! Some days the visibility has been hazy and I have been able to feel the poor air irritate my throat and eyes. Hong Kong is open to the ocean on most sides so you would think this wouldn’t happen? But apparently air pressure changes from the sea are capable of creating a barrier which keeps the air locked in between the mountains. There’s barely any industry left in Hong Kong. It has all moved north across the border to Mainland China. But HK is relatively small and holds some relatively congested roads. Most Hongkongers cannot afford a vehicle (or the parking lot). Others just find it impractical. Those with cars use them a lot and the distribution network across the territory demands a great deal of trucks as well. Home cooking and other reasons are a part of it too. Some say the pollution is blowing in from the factories in Mainland China. Others say it is a result of our own doing.

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I love how Phil's tree is decorated HK-style with a taxi and a tram :)

Boxing Day came which is a day that means absolutely nothing to a Viking like me. December 26th is just a date in the calendar. To the Anglo-influenced countries and regions around the world it is an extension of Christmas and another opportunity to eat good food and hang out with friends. It apparently also sometimes resembles ‘Black Friday’ with lots of good offers. This years Boxing Day was special as my friend Phil invited me to spend it with him and his friends in Sai Kung. I got to meet his lovely wife Karen and most of Phil’s Softball Team. I asked if I should bring something and was told: “no – just yourself”. To be safe I brought a bottle of champagne and when I entered Phil’s house his friends had brought guacamole, tabbouleh, cake, apple crumble, cherries and whatnot! Phil and Karen arranged for meat, cheese and everything else. Good times! I got to answer a lot of Saga-questions from the curious crowd. And I even made a contact who might be able to help with the CBP. A stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.

6

And then the best Danish written article finally came out! In my opinion at least. There have certainly been some fine journalistic works across the years and I am grateful for all the coverage this little project has had within my home country. Torben Sangild’s writeup for Zetland came out really well! Torben and I spoke for about three hours over the course of two days and he did extensive research on his own. Interviews have long since become routine work for me and more often than not they are superficial and pose the same 8-10 standard questions: how many countries have you been to? (194), What’s your favorite country? (?), How can you afford it? (Ross DK and Geoop), What’s the worst thing that happened to you? (?), Why are you doing it? (!), etc. etc. etc…

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Unfortunately not just fog. The AQI was really high when I took this photo.

Well, it was a real pleasure reading the Zetland article. It is very flattering and to some degree oversells me as a kind and positive person. I try to be kind and I try to be positive. But there is a darkness within me too and I get frustrated, I complain and I can be rude. Especially these days, I think. I have often pondered whether I am a bad person trying to be good – or a good person who sometimes missteps? I feel like my privacy has been invaded a bit, I feel overworked, the stress keeps building up, and I need a break. It would be a blessing to go onboard PIL’s good vessel and disconnect for a while. I even welcome ten days of hotel quarantine in Palau. Some “me time” and isolation would be fantastic. I’m by no means famous but I do get recognized on the street now and again and for the most part people are super nice. But I’m not sure I want to give up my anonymity in the public? And the online traffic I need to deal with through emails, social media, and text messages is overwhelming. If you reached out to me and never heard back then I’m sorry. The simple matter of things is that I’m just one man and the day is limited to 24 hours. If the Saga continues to grow in attention (and I suspect it will) then I need to hire some people to take a part of the workload. Fingers crossed we’re getting on that ship! Before I tie the knot on Torben and Zetland I would just like to inform the Danes that Torben also does a really good podcast about stand-up comedy. It’s in Danish and called: “Comedy-kontoret” (The comedy office). I’ve had the pleasure of listening to several episodes while shopping for ships.

8

Just another day at work.

And shop for ships I do! It has been a great honor to service seafarers arriving to Hong Kong during my time at the Danish Seamen’s Church in Hong Kong. I have gone onboard forty-five containerships this year with anything ranging from toothpaste to 50” flatscreen TV’s! If the seafarers need it then we have procured it! I’ve had help from friends in Hong Kong to locate certain shops but more often than not we have delivered as requested. Seafarers are not permitted to leave the vessel in HK now during the pandemic. Heck! If you are flying in from Denmark then you will need to go through three-weeks of hotel quarantine before you get to enjoy freedom. HK has been strict during the pandemic and as a result I’m not aware of any cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant within the public. To my knowledge all cases have been caught in quarantine. Well, that’s one strategy. Hong Kong's tough new rule requires arrivals from Omicron-hit countries to spend their first week of quarantine in a government camp. QR-scans, hand sanitizer, masks, social distancing, temperature checks and a lot more remain the norm in this part of the world. If you test positive then you’re off to the hospital no matter how you feel followed by quarantine in a government camp. I have a friend in Denmark who just tested positive and he’s at home with his family. What a contrast.

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Hiking with the "nutcases" every Thursday will surely be missed.

Perhaps we will be leaving HK soon? The plan is a roundtrip back to HK so it will not be too hard on me at first. But it will eventually be hard to leave the place which has kept me safe throughout this pandemic. The place where I have made more friends than anywhere else on earth (apart from home). The place where I have challenged myself and others to complete physical challenges again and again. A place with more nature than city. A place I know better than Copenhagen in Denmark. But the plan is a round trip back to Hong Kong. If we leave onboard the good ship ‘Kota Ratna’ departing HK on January 5th then it would look like this: arrive to Koror, Palau, January 19th. Depart Koror, Palau, February 2nd and arrive back at Hong Kong February 8th. Quarantine until March 1st. What a plan!

1

This is what we have been waiting for!! Now let's goooooooooooo!

I promised you a good surprise here at the end. During the night between Wednesday and Thursday an email ticked in from the very kind Captain Siddiqui at PIL in Singapore. Guam CBP had approved that I could board PIL’s ship to Palau heading though their territorial waters. You can usually count on the USA to do the right thing in the end. There have been plenty of challenges lately but just as many solutions. Our next challenge is that PIL cannot guarantee my return to Hong Kong. That is fully understandable during these volatile times. People keep asking me when I will reach the next country or when I will return home. How the heck could anyone answer that question while regulations keep changing as mutations roam the world? I can guarantee that I will not see home in 2022 unless I quit the Saga. There is no way we can reach the final nine within a year the way the world looks right now. “Why not?” Because the distances within the Pacific Ocean are great. Because of ship frequencies. Because of indirect shipping routes. Because of speed limitations. But fingers crossed that we will reach Palau on January 19th.

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Video call with my mom and one of my two siblings. I have the pleasure of speaking with several friends from back home this week :)

And thank you one and all for all your kindness, your support and your well wishes. 2021 has been a heck of a year for all of us. Stay safe and sane out there. Happy New Year and best wishes for 2022. Together we shall keep on keeping on!

 

 

I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

Hi Res with Geoop

 

If you enjoyed this blog or think I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga still needs funding. Thank you :)

 

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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - finally getting that break!!

"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

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